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Literature to soothe my grieving soul

I would be less than honest if I did not admit that the results of the senatorial elections greatly disappointed me, as I personally campaigned against the plunderers and the dishonest. But I take comfort in the continuing fighting spirit of the Otso Diretso team’s message along with a triumphant smiling shot: “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”

Yes, this is just the beginning. We are not discouraged. You have shown an alternative platform for our democracy. As Chel Diokno said, “What’s important is the light we have shone in the darkness.” While  accepting the will of the majority IF indeed the votes were canvassed properly, we will be a vigilant force monitoring the performance of the victorious.

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And so, life must go on as we return to aspects of our individual work we endeavor will somehow redound to an equitable and just society, with equal opportunities for all Filipinos. Literature and its healing powers unfailingly soothe the troubled spirit.

Buwan ng Panitikan ended on a high note for me in Naga City, with the awarding of the first Premyo Valledor Prize for Best Bikol Novel, a dream initiative that has become a reality for the Ateneo de Naga University (ADNU) Press and the National Book Development Board (NBDB). The generous prize donor, Victorio Cabangon Valledor, is a native of Catanduanes, a very successful CEO of the international insurance brokerage Lockton Philippines Inc. and a patron of the arts.  His advocacies are education and the arts and letters. He embarked on this project because he dreams of a robust Bikol literature to be known and appreciated here and abroad, especially by non-Bikolanos.

The award’s significance is that it provides a venue not usually available for Bikol writers. In writing competitions held across the country, there exists no permanent category for writing in Bikol. The Palanca Awards only has Cebuano, Hiligaynon and Ilokano in its regional languages division. For the most part, the featured language in other competitions like the National Book Awards would be on a rotation basis. But how to give equal opportunity to some 170 languages, or even the Department of Education’s choice of 18 languages considered to be spoken by a large segment of the population?

Thus, this partnership with the ADNU Press and the NBDB to pioneer this award for the Bikol novel, the first of its kind in the country. Over the years, ADNU Press has come out with wonderful publications, with Fr. Wilmer Tria and the peerless Kristian Cordero at the helm, along with the supportive university president Fr. Robert Rivera. Just last year, two ADNU Press publications won at the 37th National Book Awards for Poetry in the Filipino and English categories (Emmanuel Velasco’s “Mga Sugat na Naligaw sa Gubat,” Dr. Merlie Alunan’s “Running with Ghosts”).

But, with the Premyo Valledor, I believe the ADNU Press will now embark upon a new era of publication by proliferating the market with novels in Bikol. It is a special incentive to develop the genre of the novel in the Bikol language, for what Bikol novels are there to know?

There may have been only eight entries for this first year. Valledor, the businessman who thinks in hard figures and yielding outcomes, confessed that based on such criteria, the contest may be considered a dismal flop. But these are birth pains; we are all too familiar with the wait-and-see attitude among writers. The competition, which has just launched its 2019 deadline for November, is alive and well and is certain to generate more participants as the winning authors, Jerome Mendoza Hipolito and Niles Jordan Breis, do their author talks in the province.

Hipolito and Breis shared the prize of P50,000 because the judges could not settle on just one winner. A happy sign, plus the comment from one of the judges, film educator, critic and columnist Tito Valiente, who remarked: “If these entries are a sign of what Bikol literature would be, we are good for the next 100 years.”

Other judges were Marne Kilates, award-winning poet and 1998 Southeast Asia Write awardee; and Frank V. Peñones Jr., poet, translator, visual artist and Southern Luzon representative for the National Commission on Culture and the Arts’ National Committee of Literary Arts.

More on the winning writers next week.

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Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected] gmail.com) is chair of the NBDB and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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TAGS: Buwan ng Panitikan, literature, Neni Sta. Romana Cruz, Otso Diretso, The Learning Curve, Writers
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